The Fourth Decade

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The Fourth Decade

This year, JB, McQueen and me went camping to celebrate our birthdays. JB is in the middle of a major change in his life (starting a PhD program) and we couldn’t possibly do another road trip like last year. We’ve lived and learned, people.

McQueenMcQueen picked me up Friday and we secured the vehicle using awesome self-ratcheting tie downs. We weren’t sure about the firewood situation, so we bought crappy grocery store firewood. McQueen’s hair reminds me of the summer I spent listening to Peter Frampton’s “Do you Feel Like We Do” from Frampton Comes Alive, but only vaguely. It’s not quite long enough. McQueen looks less McQueeny and more like Gene Wilder.

Picking up JBWe pick up JB at the Salt Lake International Airport. He’s wearing old man sunglasses that frighten McQueen, but bring a smile to my face. It’s been a year since I’ve seen JB, and far too long. He looks great, if a little stressed. There is something about seeing old friends after an absence; there is a kind of comfort that surfaces up from deep inside. JB is about to move further away, and I feel sad that I didn’t take advantage of his relative closeness while I could. However, we’ve got these couple of days to catch up, so I put the melancholy aside. We are headed to Nevada.

Lonely RoadMcQueen has been to Great Basin National Park before, but neither JB nor I have ever been there. We are hoping to camp at the highest campsite and be able to start our hike without having to move the car. Even though surrounded by others, there’s something about getting away to a remote location that can cleanse and clarify. We know that we are car camping, but we’ll take any solitude we can get. We arrive at Wheeler Peak Campgrounds and after doing a sad loop, we hit the high loop and find a perfect spot. It’s got a great view of Wheeler Peak and there isn’t a cloud in the sky. It’s about 10-15 degrees (F) cooler than down in the valley and there is enough room for our tents.

Stella LakeSaturday morning we set out on an eight mile round trip hike to Wheeler Peak. The hike starts at 9,800 feet above sea level and the summit of Wheeler Peak is 13,065 feet above sea level. Wheeler Peak is the second highest in the state. We detour a couple of tenths of a mile to check out Stella Lake (insert your favorite popular cultural reference). We see Wheeler Peak and it looks farther away than a few miles.

It doesn't look so far, really.A mile or so after leaving Stella Lake, we are above the tree line and are hiking on rocks. A lot of rocks. There are various flowers growing, as if to defy nature. The trail is ascending and seems to be neverending. We cross a snow field and take a break. We snack and goof off. McQueen pitches snowballs that JB hits with his hiking poles. I’m feeling confident that I’ll make the climb, but damn, that summit doesn’t seem to be getting any closer.

In the middle of a severe sugar lowFinally, after a couple of hours of wicked hiking, the summit seems close. But I’m having difficulty breathing and muscle fatigue is setting in. My blood sugar levels have dipped too low. I have bonked. I sit down, breathing like a sociopath and give myself a pep talk. The gusts of wind don’t help my tipsy manner. It’s windy at 12,500 feet. JB surrenders some of his energy bar. Giddy to get the hike started, McQueen and I forgot to pack the six energy bars we bought specifically for the hike. After a few minutes, and a hit of water, I stand up and hike the remainder. It’s taken us nearly four hours to reach this point.

The views from the summit are spectacular:
The View From 13,065 Feet Above Sea Level

We stay at the summit for 30 minutes or so, eating lunch, taking pictures and joking. I’ve never been at such a high altitude or done a hike that was more demanding. We still have to get down the mountain. McQueen lent me a hiking pole, and it will be used heavily on the descent. JB’s perfected a sprinting AT-ST method and easily leads us down the neverending rocks into a stifling heat. Even though there is shade, it’s noticeably warmer as we near the campsite. My boots* are starting to boil.

That night, we enjoy a great fire, great food (McQueen packed his portable grill; definitely worth the space on a car campout) and some toasts. Beer gave way to wine, which then lead to bourbon sipping and then another beer. I will cherish these few moments with friends who have been through so much.

We headed home Sunday mid-morning and once we were back in cell phone range, we each get told tales of crisis. Over sandwiches we decide that next year, the families will accompany us on a cruise. Except none of the spouses would ever agree to a cruise, even a family-friendly one. Maybe we’ll just camp out again next year.

You can view the set of photos here.

*No clogs were harmed in or on the hike. I love clogs and all, but I’m not crazy enough to wear them on a hike like this. I would hope you wouldn’t be so crazy as well.

Also published on Medium.